Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Philippine Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala
IT’S easy to understand why Agriculture Secretary Proceso “Procy” Alcala looked gung-ho when he vowed to increase palay production in the next three years, and eventually end the country’s dependence on rice importation.
“It’s simple,” he says. “Government will try to expand rice production in rain-fed and irrigated areas, even to the extent of utilizing uplands and marshlands.”
In the end, however, it will be the “farmer’s choice” that matters.
The agriculture secretary is also determined to promote “good science” in preventing a deterioration of the agricultural sector.
In modernizing Philippine agriculture, Alcala points out the need to harmonize different technologies to boost President Benigno Simeon Aquino III’s program of food security.
True, Alcala has been known to be an advocate of organic farming, having authored, as legislator from the Second District of Quezon, the National Organic Agriculture Act.
This piece of legislation, now a law, would put to good use natural farming and ensure that farmers can avail themselves of over-the-counter organic inputs.
As agriculture secretary, he is nevertheless determined to encourage conventional farming and promote biotechnology, which he agrees is crucial in maximizing science as a key to sustainable growth in food production.
“Don’t we need science to produce good seeds?” he says.
For starters, here’s how the secretary intends to help pave the way for rice self-sufficiency in the next three years.
Rice, glorious rice
“AS of now, most seeds we use are ordinary seeds. So, we have to pass through this stage in which farmers should be encouraged to use good seeds instead of the ordinary ones. It’s only after this that we can say that we could produce certified seeds [CS],” he adds.
Alcala is actually bent on maximizing the cultivation of CS, which have better chances of returning higher output in the wake of projections that 43 percent of all farms will suffer as a result of the El Niño weather phenomenon.
Adding to the country’s woes is the threat that 20 percent of farms would be flooded by the other climatic disaster known as La Niña.
“But right now, only 10 percent [of our farmers] are actually using hybrid seeds, 20 percent use certified seeds and 70 percent are still using ordinary seeds,” he reveals.
At least for one year, Alcala says he intends to convert 45 percent of those using ordinary seeds to use good seeds.
“Hopefully, on the second year, the whole 70 percent will be using good seed,” he says.
“After two years, we are confident that the farmers will no longer use the ordinary seed, and then on the third year, we can increase the use of hybrid seeds from 10 to 15 percent because we already improved the irrigation system,” Alcala notes. He is doing all of these in compliance with the President’s marching orders for him to give priority to agricultural infrastructure, from irrigation, postharvest facilities and modern milling equipment, to effective farm-system management.
Teach them well
IN the process of modernizing agriculture, the government will see to it that farmers are retrained.
For instance, he says that he is determined to promote organic farming.
“If you go down to the farmers, they would be glad to accept it and say that we are right [in organic farming]. But at the end of the day, they will still go on their own. Because they will not be able to buy inputs for organic farming,” he explains. “So it’s time that we send our technicians to the field and teach the farmers how to practice organic agriculture,” he says. “The farmers can now choose whether they would use fertilizers coming from natural farming, or combine them with other inputs.”
As of now, he says organic or natural farming remains inferior when it comes to pest management.
He finds this a problem, and he would want to encourage agricultural scientists to help develop inputs to promote organic tools for pest management.
Since irrigation is a problem in rice production, Alcala says the government has decided to promote other rice varieties that need not be soaked in water.
Upland rice to the rescue
HE also cites the need to supplement current production with upland rice, but with improved seeds.
“If we are able to get quality seeds and improve our postharvest facilities, then we are on the right track,” he says.
During his term, he also plans to lead people into appreciating the need to produce more unpolished rice, which has an 86-percent recovery rate in milling.
“We just need to tell the truth that we don’t need to fortify the rice with iron since unpolished rice also has adequate iron content. It also has a high-fiber content and naturally rich in micronutrients,” he says.
Iron-fortified rice actually costs an additional P1 per kilo for the National Food Authority and rice millers have been engaged in fortifying rice for some time without any regret.
By Business Mirror
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